Short, Simple Steps to Writing SMART Goals and Short-Term Objectives for Transition Planning with Examples!

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in Endrew F. v. Douglas County Schools (2017) and Perez v. Sturis (2023), substantive compliance has never been more important.  Substantive compliance is essentially the responsibility of a school district to create and provide a quality IEP that results in measurable progress.  The Endrew F. case established that every child “must make progress in light of their unique circumstances … and “the child’s IEP must be reasonably ambitious.”  In the Perez case, the High Court determined that parents do not need to exhaust administrative remedies prior to seeking financial damages via additional federal statutes (ADA, etc.).  The combined decisions have resulted in the raising of the bar for school districts with respect to providing a FAPE and that the parents can more easily and quickly sue districts for financial damages when FAPE violations occur.  This is certainly not a good recipe for districts that are not ensuring high quality, individualized IEPs.  

In the past couple of years we have observed an increase in transition planning-related due process filings and litigation.  The general belief among special education law experts is that attorneys have identified transition planning as a weak area in the IEP process and are using this area of a trojan horse of sorts to initiate formal complaints and litigation.  One of the most fundamental issues with a non-compliant IEP and transition plan is often tracked back to the annual goals and objectives.  All too often annual goals and objectives are not individualized, linked to the PLAAFP, measurable, and they do not have baselines.  So, how do school districts protect themselves from litigation, due process filings, and ensure each child has a truly individualized transition plan in his or her IEP?  The best way to create a truly individualized, compliant, and meaningful transition plan and IEP is to ensure each annual goal and objective is SMART.  

When writing SMART goals and short-term objectives for transition planning for a student with an IEP, it’s important to ensure that they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Here are the key elements to consider when developing SMART goals and short-term objectives:

  1. Specific (S): The goal or objective should be clear, specific, and well-defined. It should focus on a particular skill or outcome that the student needs to achieve.
  2. Measurable (M): The goal or objective should include a way to measure or quantify the student’s progress or success. This could be through data collection, assessments, observations, or other measurable indicators.
  3. Achievable (A): The goal or objective should be realistic and attainable for the student, taking into account their abilities, resources, and supports available. It should consider the student’s current level of functioning and set reasonable expectations for growth.
  4. Relevant (R): The goal or objective should be relevant and directly related to the student’s transition needs and post-secondary goals. It should address skills or outcomes that are important for the student’s successful transition to adulthood, employment, education, or independent living.
  5. Time-bound (T): The goal or objective should have a specific timeline or target date for completion. This helps create a sense of urgency and allows for progress monitoring and adjustments as needed.

When writing short-term objectives, which are steps or benchmarks that lead to the achievement of the overall goal, consider the following additional elements:

  • Break down the goal into smaller, manageable objectives that can be achieved within shorter timeframes.
  • Each objective should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • The objectives should build upon each other and contribute to the overall attainment of the goal.

For example, let’s consider a SMART goal for a student’s transition planning:

SMART Goal: By the end of the academic year, the student will independently research and apply to two post-secondary institutions that align with their career interests.

Short-Term Objective 1: By [date], the student will research at least three post-secondary institutions and compare their programs, admission requirements, and career opportunities.

Short-Term Objective 2: By [date], the student will attend college fairs or information sessions to gather further details about the two preferred post-secondary institutions.

Short-Term Objective 3: By [date], the student will complete and submit applications to the two chosen post-secondary institutions, including all required documents and essays.

Remember to review and revise the goals and objectives periodically to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate for the student’s evolving needs and progress. Collaboration with the student, family, and IEP team is crucial in developing effective and meaningful transition goals and short-term objectives.

Here are Examples You Can Use as You Build Transition Plans!

Examples of measurable transition goals for students with IEPs that include baseline scores and methods of evaluation:

  1. Post-Secondary Education:
    • Baseline: The student is currently unable to complete a college application.
    • Goal: By [date], the student will identify and apply to three post-secondary institutions. The student’s progress will be evaluated based on the completion of college applications and submission confirmation.
  2. Employment:
    • Baseline: The student has minimal knowledge of career interests and limited exposure to job-seeking skills.
    • Goal: By [date], the student will participate in a vocational assessment and identify two potential career paths to explore further. The student’s progress will be evaluated based on completion of the vocational assessment and the identification of career options.
  3. Independent Living Skills:
    • Baseline: The student requires assistance in managing personal finances and has limited experience in household tasks.
    • Goal: By [date], the student will independently create and follow a monthly budget, including income, expenses, and savings. The student’s progress will be evaluated through periodic checks of the budget and financial records.
  4. Community Engagement:
    • Baseline: The student has limited involvement in community organizations or activities.
    • Goal: By [date], the student will actively participate in at least one community organization or club related to their interests for a specific number of hours per month. The student’s progress will be evaluated through documentation of participation hours and involvement in community activities.
  5. Self-Advocacy and Communication:
    • Baseline: The student requires support in expressing their needs and preferences in academic or social settings.
  • Goal: By [date], the student will independently advocate for their accommodations in a classroom or work setting. The student’s progress will be evaluated through observation, self-reporting, and feedback from teachers or supervisors.

Note:  For ease of understanding and application, specific measurements were not used in the baselines above.  Although not a requirement, quantitative baselines are preferred as they are discreet, easily measured, and easy to determine the degree of progress made in a given time period. 

It’s important to note that the specific baseline scores and methods of evaluation may vary depending on the student’s individual circumstances, available assessment tools, and resources. These examples provide a general framework for developing measurable transition goals, but it’s crucial to individualize the goals and evaluation methods based on the student’s unique needs and context. Regular progress monitoring and collaboration with the student, family, and IEP team will help ensure the goals are meaningful and achievable.  Individualization, careful measurement, and the appropriate application of specially designed instruction are the hallmarks of a quality and substantively compliant transition plan.